[The following notes are from my class on Preaching for Master of Divinity students.]
Beginning with week two each student will receive a Scripture assignment. This passage will remain your “preaching text” for the rest of the semester. The student will apply the sermon preparation teaching to the text, as well as the homiletic structure, for producing the final manuscript. There will also be a final sermon preached.
Preparation of the Sermon
- Read the Text and the Context
- Question the Text. Deal with main issues of the text and ancillary issues. Question it as a child, as an unbeliever, as a mature believer, as a Christian shepherd charged with the spiritual care of Christ’s flock.
- Discover the movements of the text. Note those (you will return to this in your Argument).
- Isolate the Meaning (“This text is about _____________________.).
- Isolate the spiritual problem, issue, or “Fallen Condition Focus” in the meaning.
- Isolate the exegetical solution in the meaning.
- Prayerfully, pastorally, consider the expository idea of the meaning for those in your hearing. Craft a concise expositional statement (“Big Idea,” premise, proposition, theme). Edit and edit again, until there is a sense of balance. Reduce it to the simplest form possible. It should pass the “sticky note” test. You should be able to write it on a sticky note, remember it clearly, state it as you awake at 2 AM on early Sunday morning.
- Record your presenting issue, your exegetical statement, and your expository statement.
- Consider the Argument by, first, establishing the interrogatory statement (How? Who? What? When? Where?)
- Provide a Transitional Statement with a Key Word. The Transitional Statement answers the Interrogatory Statement. The Transitional Statement includes a Key Word that will rhetorically and logically present the Argument from the Scripture (e.g., “How does God show His will for us today? He does so in three personal ways.”). In the example, the word “ways” (or “personal ways”) is the key word (or phrase) that will be used to help form the Argument.
- Each transitional statement will, then, form a link that holds the Arguments together (e.g., “The first personal way God reveals His will to us is shows in verse 20:”).
- Argument heads are then established. Return to your studies and your isolation of the exegetical movement of the text. This is the most expositional, natural, Biblical progression of the mind of God in the text. Each movement now forms the headings (i.e., the “points”) of your Argument (sometimes called “the Body of the sermon”).
- In each Argument heading or movement, the preacher will explain that text. This should be a further unveiling of the mind of the Spirit of the Lord in the Scripture and connected to the Exegetical Statement as well as the Expository Statement. The most basic approach to preaching through the movements of the Argument is to conduct a three-fold exercise in each heading (i.e., “point”): Explain the text, illustrate the text, and apply the text. We will not go further into teaching on the importance of these three critical pieces, except to say: The explanation is confined to that movement, not to the rest of the preaching portion; the explanation may include other texts to support the meaning or help explain the meaning; the use of the original languages should only be used to shed light on the text, not to display the hard drive of the sermon preparation. The illustrations should be, by definition, shedding cognitive and even existential light upon this particular movement of the text. The application is necessary to complete the expository movement. Without it there is Bible study, but not preaching. The preacher is, now, standing between heaven and earth, suspended between two worlds, announcing “a word from another world.”
- The Conclusion is much more than a “wrap-up.” The conclusion of the sermon is the great, pastoral appeal. This is equivalent to a trial attorney making his closing case to the jury. The preacher, representing God, brings the Biblically supported expository statement to bear, recapping with the movements, and giving a positive example of what obedience or transformation will look like, and, then, appealing to the hearers to respond.
- The preaching student in this class will, then, move from notes to a simplified outline, and from there to a full manuscript. The exercise of writing will force the preacher to consider and reconsider the logical movements and other critical parts of the sermon.
- The preacher student will go to a place alone and read the text aloud. There is a balance between dramatic reading, which should be shunned in the pulpit, and appropriate interpretive, pastoral reading. Look for commas, sometimes “looping them” to move across them. Use pause. Use voice modulation. Practice reading with the left hand holding the Bible, as if a professional chorister holding a hymnal, and the right hand available for minimal gestures, naturally, as you “experience” the text. Use appropriate ascriptions before the text and after the text. Liturgical ascriptions from the Book of Common Prayer or the Book of Common Worship (or your own denomination’s tradition) will accomplish two things: Tell the congregation that the Word to be read is God’s Word and to be careful and listen up! The closing (e.g., “The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!”) allows you to lift up the holiness of the Word and announce that you are now moving to expound on this portion of the text. It is no wonder that St. Paul leaves Timothy with a charge to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Expect that some will already be changed by the Holy Spirit by the time you give your opening sentence in the sermon. This is powerful, spiritual activity of the highest form, as the Spirit of God attends to His promises concerning His Word!
A Final Note
If the sermon does not present Jesus Christ and His Gospel in the message in a way that is hermeneutically faithful to the text, then a good sermon will remain a good sermon, but not a good Christian sermon. A Christian sermon preaches Christ, the cross, the need to repent and turn to Christ, to rest in Him, to follow Him, and to love Him and receive His love. Of course, each sermon presents some aspect of the Gospel dealing with some aspect of fallen mankind. The preacher is a spiritual physician. The physician must assess, diagnose, and treat the hearer with the available medicine for the cure of the soul. This requires prayer, meditation, and consultation of other spiritual physicians (and, thus, the place of commentaries).